Feminism, by definition, calls for the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. It is less about an individual’s persona, and more about challenging the societal perception of women and encouraging the empowerment of women, globally.
In spite of the overarching theme, mainstream feminist theory is narrowly focused on white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied women. The limited perspective presented by mainstream feminism, and the lack of acknowledgement of the many variables that make up different women’s identities have fractured and sabotaged the potential for a unified women’s movement.
“To me, [feminism] is women having the same, or equal opportunities and availabilities as men have in their day-to-day lives,” said Maura Schaffer, a senior history secondary education major. “The feminism that is popularised by media and celebrities is not inclusive of everybody’s identities.”
People view feminism in different ways. However, feminism in its purest form should encompass everybody.
Women may be united in the common, on-going cause toward gender equality, but the confrontation of social disparities requires an acknowledgement to an array of experiences, which include, but are not limited to, racial identity and ethnicity.
“[Feminism] does not encompass all the different types of intersectionality,” said senior psychology major Mariah Webber. “Only one small section [of feminism] is covered.”
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Black American and Hispanic American women earn 64 cents and 55 cents for every dollar a man is paid, respectively.
The gender-based wage gap, in spite of being influenced by gender identity, is also affected by other facets of women’s identities. The wage and income gap disproportionately marginalizes women of color, who, throughout history, have made less than their white counterparts.
Efforts to end gender inequality must recognize that minority women face worse prospects of social, economic, and political disparity because they are simultaneously overcoming institutionalized phobias, stigmas, and systematic discrimination, as well as addressing gender based inequality.
Even though women are oppressed in one way, said Webber, supporters of the feminist movement need to be aware that some women are oppressed in multiple ways.
“As a white woman, I understand that my experiences and my needs are going to be different. Something that I may need for the idea of feminism to be fully accomplished is different from what other people may need,” Schaffer said. “People need to work together and understand each other’s needs to accomplish [their goals].”
It is imperative to extend the feminist movement past the one-size-fits-all route that historical and societal relations have imposed. There is an undeniable series of connections between gender, race, socio-economic stance, sexuality, and religion.
To ignore the intersectionality of varying identities creates distinctions and increases disparity within the feminist movement.
Traditionally, women’s rights movements have been led by middle-class, and upper class, white, educated women, said Schaffer. We are yet to see people step back and call for inclusivity.
There are women of colour who have tried to incorporate themselves within the mainstream feminist movement, but they have been pushed out. White women need to allow the incorporation of women of colour, because there are women of colour who are educated and just as capable of leading.
The schisms within feminism are present because where women of colour are still fighting for racial and ethnic equality, in addition to gender equality, feminist movements are solely focused on gender equality.
The assimilation of differing perspectives and stories of people from diverse subdivisions of feminism into mainstream feminism ensures that the shared ideology of equality is neither excluding, nor alienating of individuals who experience interlocking systemic oppressions due to their multi-faceted identities.
The acknowledgement of all identities adds clout to the feminist discourse and allows for unified, cohesive strides toward the empowerment of women.
“Feminism is like a fairground,” said Webber. “Within the fairground there are different tents. The whole idea of feminism is equality of the sexes. Within that there are different types of feminism, different tents. There are different sections, but they are all under the same principle. Your tent [should be] working for the betterment of the entire fairground.”
Gender cannot be disillusioned from race, socio-economic stance, sexuality, and religion. The feminist movement must be accommodating to intersectionality.
Ndugga, a junior journalism and political science major from Chapel Hill, is an intern news reporter.
STORY: Naula Ndugga, Intern News Reporter